Tweeter in Chief

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Photo credit: The Washington Post

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The president is not presidential. He does not hold press conferences to push his agenda. He does not preside over town halls. He does not explain policy from the podium. He does not speak to his Attorney General when he is displeased.

He tweets.

Waking up to the president’s Twitter feed brings Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury to mind. Not the book, mind you, but that famous line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth from which the title derives: “a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Because what, if anything, do a president’s tweets signify?

In a 60 Minutes interview on healthcare, the president said, “I am going to take care of everybody … Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.”

But there are never details on said care. He mostly delivers his favorite zinger, “the disaster known as Obamacare,” and tweets like he is coaching a baseball game. “Go Republican Senators, Go!”

He screams from the sidelines. I need a win on the board!

Whether you are for or against in the healthcare debate, the fact remains: there are millions who count on Obamacare to keep them, and their children, alive. Americans who lie awake nights with worry. The words “let Obamacare implode” are not presidential, they are the diatribe of a lazy despot who would rather let his people suffer than do the work required of his position.

Six months in, the president is already bored with legislation. Bored with this healthcare nonsense. Bored with the not-so-glamorous parts of the presidency.

So he tweets.

Of course, the president’s supporters argue otherwise. He is an outsider, not politically correct, draining the swamp. He fights for the working man and against the liberal elites, coastal elites, and intellectual elites at Goldman Sachs who paid Hillary Clinton big bucks for a speech.

Yet most of Trump’s White House staff—Mnuchin, Cohn, Ross, Powell, Bannon, Donovan, Scaramucci—reads like a Real Housewives of Wall Street cast, a swanky, black-tie invitation list of Harvard-educated bankers. So goes the biggest joke on Wall Street, “Is there even anyone left at Goldman Sachs?”

One morning last week, at 5:55 am, the president issued a string of tweets on military policy that began with, “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow……”

In the long nine minutes between this first tweet and the next—his intent to bar transgender Americans from service — Pentagon staffers held their collective breath. Was their Commander in Chief about to tweet us into a war?

And imagine you are one of those 15,000 transgender service members, many of whom are on the front lines risking their lives, hearing from your president in a tweet: you are not good enough to take a bullet for your country.

In her July 27 Wall Street Journal column, former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan wrote, “Half the president’s tweets show utter weakness. They are plaintive, shrill little cries, usually just after dawn.” The mad king wakes up in a mood, lashing out, and “meanwhile, the whole world is watching, a world that contains predators. How could they not be seeing this weakness, confusion and chaos and thinking it’s a good time to cause some trouble?”

The president is not draining the swamp. He is simply the most dangerous alligator in the swamp.

Safe behind the screen of his Twitter handle, the president ridicules his staff, dares Congress, berates the press, and dresses down everyone from the leader of China to cable TV hosts.

He flies around the country on Air Force One, refueling his ego with campaign-style rallies, delivering his most-reliable applause lines. Hillary lost! Lock her up! Fake news! Look at this record crowd! We are going to start staying Merry Christmas again! (Note: we never stopped saying Merry Christmas.)

What he does not do is govern.

Out on the road, free from the prison walls of the White House, the president opines on the glory days of his big election win—Michigan! Wisconsin! Ohio!—and soaks up the adoration of his doe-eyed believers in their red, team-Trump hats.

Only to wake in the morning, empty again, reaching for his phone. His tweets full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Maybe someone could tell Mr. Trump he is the real president, not just playing one on Twitter.

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If Trump offends you, it’s your own fault

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Photo credit: The Associated Press

When Carl pulled his bedroom door closed behind us, when I heard the old metal latch click into place, I knew what would come next: the mounting of his defense.

“You think you’re doing her a favor,” he said, reaching out, laying his hand soft on my arm. “But you’re wrong, and you’re going to look ridiculous. I haven’t been sleeping, maybe she told you, so I’m exhausted, jet-lagged, getting over something, I don’t know what, but I’m not feeling like myself, know what I mean?”

Carl was my best friend’s husband. Handsome, charming, successful, a hard worker, a man’s man, family man, the life of the party. And a closet alcoholic. I’d come over that evening to tell his wife what had happened at her 50th birthday party the week before, but Carl was there to head me off.

So I stood there, trapped in my best friend’s darkening bedroom, and let her husband call me a liar.

Living with Donald Trump as president is a lot like living with an alcoholic: his behavior, however embarrassing or reprehensible, must never be questioned; everyone outside his very tight circle has an ulterior motive and cannot be trusted; if he has offended you, it is somehow your own fault.

And most importantly, he, alone, tells the truth.

As media outlets investigating Russian meddling into the 2016 election closed in on the president’s eldest son’s emails, as well as a secret meeting of top Trump campaign officials, the president—who has not held an official press conference in five months—lashed out on Twitter.

“Remember, when you hear the words ‘sources say’ from the Fake Media, often times those sources are made up and do not exist.”

At 3:30 a.m on Sunday, July 16, he kept at it: “With all of its phony unnamed sources & highly slanted & even fraudulent reporting, #Fake News is DISTORTING DEMOCRACY in our country! Hillary Clinton can illegally get the questions to the Debate & delete 33,000 emails but my son Don is being scorned by the Fake News Media?”

On his recent trip to Europe for the G20 Summit, the president took the opportunity to bash the American press on foreign soil. A first for a sitting president. “They have been fake news for a long time. They’ve been covering me in a very, very dishonest way,” Trump said, singling out CNN, then went on to say, “NBC is equally as bad,” as well as his favorite punching bag, the failing New York Times.

The president’s behavior is textbook. None of this is his fault. How dare anyone question him. Only he tells the truth.

In the darkening bedroom with Carl, I stated the facts. At his wife’s party, he was already slurring his words when I arrived at seven p.m. He didn’t so much hug me as fall on me, only to do the same an hour later as if he’d never seen me before. He grabbed one friend by the face and begged unendingly to kiss her, cornering her again in the laundry room. He yanked me down on his lap, refused to let me up, and petted my hair like I was the dog. And he remembered none of it.

But Carl, as he always did when confronted with embarrassing, unwelcome facts, mounted a loud, belligerent defense. “Did you see me with a drink, did you? No, because I rarely drink. When was the last time you saw me with a drink in my hand? Never, that’s when. Maybe you were the one who was drunk!”

At his one and only official press conference back in February, the president brushed off questions about his administration and used his time, not to tout his accomplishments or his plans for our future, but to attack the press.

“The press has become so dishonest,” he said, “the press, honestly, is out of control. You can talk all you want about Russia, which was all fake news.”

Five months have passed. Russia, it turns out, was never fake news. And yet the president continues to ask the American people: who are you going to believe, me or the #FakeNews?

The night after my bedroom lecture from Carl, I told my friend about the party. She listened, and was sometimes horrified, but in the end she could not let herself believe a word of it. Carl had already explained. He was just having a good time, and he really had not been feeling well, I didn’t understand, he was exhausted, plus you know how jet-lag can affect a person.

“Besides,” she said, “the one thing he has never done is lie to me.”

Like the president, he, alone, tells the truth. It’s textbook.

 

8 years of suffering under Barack Obama

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The sentence I hear most from well-meaning, conservative friends since President Trump’s election is this: “We suffered 8 years under Barack Obama.”

Fair enough. Let’s take a look.

The day Obama took office, the Dow closed at 7,949 points. Eight years later, the Dow had almost tripled.

General Motors and Chrysler were on the brink of bankruptcy, with Ford not far behind, and their failure, along with their supply chains, would have meant the loss of millions of jobs. Obama pushed through a controversial, $8o billion bailout to save the car industry. The U.S. car industry survived, started making money again, and the entire $80 billion was paid back, with interest.

While we remain vulnerable to lone-wolf attacks, no foreign terrorist organization has successfully executed a mass attack here since 9/11.

Obama ordered the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.

He drew down the number of troops from 180,000 in Iraq and Afghanistan to just 15,000, and increased funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

He launched a program called Opening Doors which, since 2010, has led to a 47 percent decline in the number of homeless veterans.

He set a record 73 straight months of private-sector job growth.

Due to Obama’s regulatory policies, greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 12%, production of renewable energy more than doubled, and our dependence on foreign oil was cut in half.

He signed The Lilly Ledbetter Act, making it easier for women to sue employers for unequal pay.

His Omnibus Public Lands Management Act designated more than 2 million acres as wilderness, creating thousands of miles of trails and protecting over 1,000 miles of rivers.

He reduced the federal deficit from 9.8 percent of GDP in 2009 to 3.2 percent in 2016.

For all the inadequacies of the Affordable Care Act, we seem to have forgotten that, before the ACA, you could be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition and kids could not stay on their parents’ policies up to age 26.

Obama approved a $14.5 billion system to rebuild the levees in New Orleans.

All this, even as our own Mitch McConnell famously asserted that his singular mission would be to block anything President Obama tried to do.

While Obama failed on his campaign pledge to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, that prison’s population decreased from 242 to around 50.

He expanded funding for embryonic stem cell research, supporting groundbreaking advancement in areas like spinal injury treatment and cancer.

Credit card companies can no longer charge hidden fees or raise interest rates without advance notice.

Most years, Obama threw a 4th of July party for military families. He held babies, played games with children, served barbecue, and led the singing of “Happy Birthday” to his daughter Malia, who was born on July 4.

Welfare spending is down: for every 100 poor families, just 24 receive cash assistance, compared with 64 in 1996.

Obama comforted families and communities following more than a dozen mass shootings. After Sandy Hook, he said, “The majority of those who died today were children, beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old.”

Yet, he never took away anyone’s guns.

He sang Amazing Grace, spontaneously, at the altar.

He was the first president since Eisenhower to serve two terms without personal or political scandal.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

President Obama was not perfect, as no man and no president is, and you can certainly disagree with his political ideologies. But to say we suffered? If that’s the argument, if this is how we suffered for 8 years under Barack Obama, I have one wish: may we be so fortunate as to suffer 8 more.

Saying goodbye to Lea

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There is a saying that we keep our old friends to remind us who we were, and that we find new friends because we see, in them, who we want to be. I believe our animals come to us in exactly the same way, when we are lost, when we are searching for our next self.

Thank you, Lea, for finding me. RIP. You’ll always be my best girl in the whole wide world.

Go swim in all the oceans, okay?

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On the killing of Philando Castile

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I am heading to Versailles on a back road when I spot the police car in my rearview. My shoulders drop. Where did he come from all of a sudden?

He starts to follow close, so I wonder if I am going too slow, then that he’s about to spin-up his lights because he’s clocked me speeding. I check my dash. A smidgen over the limit. This will be a real drag, I think. When was the last time I got a ticket, how many years? I can’t remember. This is so embarrassing, and why am I in such a hurry? When this officer pulls me over, I wonder will he chat me up all friendly, give me a stern lecture, or be the quiet type, matter-of-fact, and just hand over the ticket?

One thought never crosses my mind: that this man may kill me.

In the days following a Minneapolis officer’s acquittal for the killing of Philando Castile during a traffic stop, I put off watching the newly-released video. I remember the story. I read the reports. I know his girlfriend recorded the entire encounter on her phone and that her 4 year old daughter witnessed the shooting from the backseat. But the video? I don’t want to bear witness to the video.

I check Twitter, as we do now, for a statement from the president. What does our president have to say about the verdict, has he seen the video, what are his words of comfort for the family, for that 4 year old?

But I find nothing. It seems our president—a man who tweets his every feeling and grievance—has nothing to say about an American killed within seconds of being pulled over … for a broken tail light.

Instead, I find tweets from fellow citizens: 6/16/2017 = the day it became legally OK to shoot a seat-belted man in the chest 7 times because he looked scary. Philando Castile had a permit to legally carry a gun. Philando Castile had a permit to legally carry a gun. Philando Castile had a permi——. What’s more tragic is the amount of people who will be completely unmoved. Philando Castile was stopped by police 46 times [in the last 13 years]. That’s what it’s like to drive while black.

This is what I know for sure: there is zero chance of this ever happening to me. Zero chance on the road to Versailles. Zero chance if I am rude to the officer who pulls me over. Zero chance if I inform the officer that I am carrying a loaded gun.

There is zero chance I will be shot, because I am white.

You might argue that I am a woman, that I don’t have a record, or that I “look harmless.” But I have men in my family who are often on the wrong side of the law; men who’ve committed felonies and been stopped for expired tags and DUI; men arrested for assault and for ripping doors off the hinges in a rage; men who sport tattoos of Confederate flags with nooses and post photos of themselves surrounded by their favorite assault rifles; men who have resisted arrest.

Like me, they are white. They have never once been shot at.

I waited a week to watch the video, to bear witness. It was more shocking, more devastating than I imagined. Mr. Castile immediately advises the officer he has a gun, for which he has a license. The back up officer will later testify that Mr. Castile was “relaxed and calm.” Within seconds of speaking to Mr. Castile, the officer rapid-fires 7 shots into the car. Two shots hit Mr. Castile in the chest. Over the next 30 minutes, he bleeds to death.

You can hear the 4 year old child crying in the backseat, comforting her terrified mommy. “It’s okay, I’m right here with you, Mom, please don’t scream because I don’t want you to get shooted.”

This, in the United States of America. What so proudly we hailed, land of the free, home of the brave.

It was Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Toni Morrison who said, in a 2014 interview, “There is no such thing as race. None. There is just a human race — scientifically, anthropologically. Racism is a construct, a social construct.”

An American citizen was shot to death by a government employee because of this imaginary social construct, a jury acquitted the killer, and our president has nothing to say.

You can be Republican or Democrat, city dweller or rural, and we can debate our ideals on education and health insurance and taxes, but know this as fact: we are dangerously adrift, and the morally bankrupt man we have chosen to lead us spent the last 7 years goading our first black president to show his birth certificate, demanding his papers like he was a runaway slave.

How, exactly, do we think this story is going to end?

The Father, Daughter Dance We Do

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At the Walgreens on Harrodsburg Road, the wall of Father’s Day cards looms like an arrival/departure board at the airport, a thousand potential options but only one that fits, one that might feel right.

It’s like this every year. But this year is different. My dad and I have not spoken in months.

It started in February 2016 with a photo of the Ku Klux Klan.

I’d just gotten home from Birmingham, Alabama, where I’d paid my respects to the late Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth at the 16th Street Baptist Church and then toured the Civil Rights Museum. I opened Facebook to post some photos and saw my dad’s latest post: white-hooded, white-robed men waving their hands in the air like a dance troupe, with the caption “Next Super Bowl Halftime Show.”

Donald Trump had been gaining ground with rallies against political correctness, to which my dad whole-heartedly subscribed, and Beyonce had just performed at the Super Bowl. My dad was het up. I sent him a text. “I spent the weekend at a church where the KKK blew up four little girls. Please tell me I did not just see a photo of the KKK in your Facebook feed.”

He first responded with a string of question marks—what? where did you see this? what are you talking about?—and when I replied that his post was sickening and vile, demanding he delete it, he simply went quiet, defiant.

Days later, like a dare, the photo remained, and as usual, the next time we talked, we pretended nothing had happened. This is the dance we do. The dance we’ve always done. The dance of avoidance.

I wish this were a common story. It is not.

Last week, as I waited in the Walgreens checkout line with a few toiletries but no Father’s Day card in hand, I spotted Ivanka Trump on the cover of US Weekly magazine with the headline, “Ivanka takes a stand,” and, inside, “She doesn’t agree with everything Donald does, but she knows how to get through to him.”

She’s not getting through.

Ivanka has an office in the White House, in the so-called role of “Trump whisperer,” allegedly reasoning with the president on issues like maternal healthcare, Black Lives Matter, LGBT rights, and climate change.

If this is her job, by all accounts she’s failing. And yet she is not to blame.

Ivanka’s dad is 70. My dad is 70. Ivanka can take all the stands she wants, and so can I, but the truth is it’s next to impossible to change the mind of a 70-something white man, set in his ways, missing his “good old days” and clinging to his ideological history like a survival raft.

“Oh, it’s just politics,” my sweet stepmother says one day, and for the first time I tell her she’s wrong. The words “it’s just politics” have become completely devoid of meaning, the way we say “I’m fine” when we are far from fine. The way we avoid the harder conversation.

Turns out the dancing KKK photo was not the end for my dad and me. There were more Facebook posts, one more offensive than the last, with more dares and question marks and arguments until, finally, a heated exchange ended with my dad un-friending me, and me typing the words, “I give up.”

That was a year ago. We have not spoken since.

The byline on Ivanka’s US Weekly cover says, “Balancing her personal ideals with love and loyalty to her father, the president’s daughter will always fight for what she believes in.”

How does that work, exactly?

We need to get over the fantasy that daughters, even presidential ones, have some kind of magical charm and sway over our fathers. We don’t.

There is a reason we avoid rocking the boat, a reason we say “I’m fine” when we are not. It is not only painful in the moment, it comes with a steep price on the future.

At the Walgreens on Harrodsburg Road, I put the US Weekly back on the stand and made my way back to the Father’s Day aisle, where nothing about the wall of cartoonish cards felt real, or right. Except that I still love my dad.

So I kept on standing there, hopeful.

American Bootstraps

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Aunt Mary kept refusing to sign up for government assistance. She was in her 50’s, living alone, paycheck to paycheck, overweight, struggling to manage her diabetes, and she had recently lost a breast and suffered debilitating chemotherapy.

Doctors insisted she could no longer work at the shoe factory where she’d spent decades on the line. But Aunt Mary held firm. She didn’t want charity, to be on the dole. She would figure something out.

Americans pride ourselves on bootstraps culture—work hard, earn your keep, pull yourself up—and President Trump’s proposed budget for 2018 reflects our bootstrap principles.

There are $193 billion in proposed cuts to food stamps (known now as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP). More than 40 million Americans depend on these benefits to feed their families and, contrary to common belief, 80% of those on SNAP have jobs. They are the working poor.

The $9 billion in cuts to education include special needs, Advanced Placement classes, anti-bullying programs, mental health, and training for technical jobs. Tamara Hiler, a senior policy adviser, called the president’s policy tone deaf as it hurts the core of his supporters: the poor, the rural, and the working class.

Cuts for farmers and agriculture over the next decade equal $50 billion.

And then there’s healthcare. Kentuckians depend on Medicaid more than most states, so the president’s plan to slash Medicaid by $616 billion over the next ten years (in addition to the $880 billion already proposed in the House Republicans’ healthcare bill) would prove devastating to our most vulnerable citizens.

And yet conservatives cheer the president’s plan.

Aunt Mary was a proud American. It took us months to talk her into signing up for Medicaid. I’m convinced she would have held out longer, maybe forever, if my mother had not become terminally ill and guilted her into filling out the paperwork. “You’re my favorite sister,” my mother told her. “We were born 13 months apart and grew up sharing a bed. Do it for me. I won’t be able to die in peace knowing you’re not taken care of.”

After my mother’s death, with Medicaid to pay for healthcare and medication, Aunt Mary lived another 12 years. A colorful character, she filled the mother-void in my life, but she also took what responsibility she could for her health. She managed her diabetes with diet and insulin and, after having a tumor removed from her heart, kept at the physical therapy exercises on her own. She even lost some weight.

When painful, diabetic neuropathy set in and she became wheelchair-bound, Aunt Mary signed up for meals-on-wheels. And though it took gargantuan effort, she continued to press her slacks, steam her blouses, do her hair, and put on makeup every single morning, because, “If I’m getting a home-cooked meal, personally delivered, the least I can do is make myself presentable!”

Aunt Mary was on the dole, but she knew the importance of appearances. Americans may have a bootstraps culture, but we can also be a cruel and judgmental lot, quick to righteousness.

To the poor or addicted, we want to scream, “Clean up your act. Get a job.”

To minority groups and immigrants, “Keep your head down and your mouth shut. Learn English. This is our country. If you don’t like it, get out.”

To the obese mother in line at Walmart, with her full cart of food and her SNAP card, “Why do I have to pay when I work hard and you’re the lazy one, the one who made the wrong choices.”

To the sick, as Representative Mo Brooks from Alabama recently put it, our goal is not to provide healthcare or a safety net for the most vulnerable, but to reduce insurance “costs to those people who lead good lives.”

So much for Matthew 25: 35-36 — I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me.

The president and his cabinet, and the majority of their supporters, believe massive cuts in social welfare programs and healthcare and education are necessary. A long overdue pulling-up of our collective American bootstraps. Hallelujah! they say.

But at what cost? Am I the only one with an Aunt Mary?

NPR reports, “When people are paying out of pocket, the poorest people will forgo treatment — or they’ll have treatment and be thrown into poverty because of medical costs. That’s mostly a problem for poor countries, though the U.S. stands out among high-income countries as having catastrophic medical expenditures that put people into poverty.”

Massive cuts to farming, food programs, education, and healthcare. Bootstraps. We must ask, is this all it means to be American?

How will turning our backs on those most in need Make America Great Again?